May 24, 2011
Divide and Conquer, NL West
When All Else Fails, Try a Prospect from the '90s
Those birthday/funeral combinations are awkward, aren't they? Just as we began celebrating the resurrection of the Padres offense, it died again.
The timing couldn't have been worse, as the team appeared ill-prepared to face its bitter interleague rival, the Seattle Mariners, in the prestigious Vedder Cup. The Padres got swept by a combined score of 14-2, bringing their home record to 8-18.
It is difficult to write off a team in May, but it is also difficult to envision the architects of last year's near-Cinderella story making a push beyond, say, fourth place. Although I don't have numbers to support this, I'm pretty sure teams that lose 69 percent of their home games are, to use the vernacular, seriously hosed.
One of the few reasons to watch this year and to hope for the future continues to be center fielder Cameron Maybin, who as Ken Funck notes appears to be on course for a breakthrough campaign. Maybin's numbers a quarter of the way through the season bear strong resemblance to those of another center fielder with whom he is often compared, Mike Cameron, at the same age:
Maybin and Cameron at Age 24
The season is early (PECOTA has Maybin finishing at a lower but still respectable .249/.322/.374), and a lot can change over the next few months, but this has to be encouraging for Maybin and the Padres. Yes, he strikes out a lot, but that is part of his game. As with Cameron, you live with it because he does so many other things to help the ballclub.
For instance, Maybin plays fantastic defense, a point driven home by his absence from a couple of games this past week due to a minor knee injury. His replacement, Eric Patterson, took some interesting routes and managed to avoid tracking down fly balls that Maybin would have caught with ease.
Defense in general, a strength of last year's club, has been a problem for the 2011 Padres. Most notably, 13.5 percent of runs allowed by San Diego pitchers have been unearned (versus 5.5 percent in 2010). This isn't the most sophisticated way to measure defense, but it's a fairly damning result.
Part of the problem has been short-term health issues (Maybin, Orlando Hudson). Another part has been the absence of Adrian Gonzalez at first base, but I've got four more teams to discuss, so we'll leave that story for some other day.
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Speaking of resurrections, how about Jason Giambi's first career three-homer game? Giambi, best known for winning the 2000 American League MVP and issuing the world's most awkward apology (non-McCourt division), got the call at first base in place of injured starter Todd Helton (back spasms, not serious). Giambi pounded two home runs against Phillies starter Kyle Kendrick at Philadelphia on May 19 and one more against reliever Danys Baez.
Unfortunately, the rest of the team seems to have forgotten how to play baseball. Third base continues to be a disaster (.169/.219/.247). Meanwhile, lefty reliever Franklin Morales was shipped to Boston for a box of rusty nails and right-hander Felipe Paulino has been DFA’d.
Paulino is replaced on the roster by former first-round pick Greg Reynolds. Although Reynolds doesn't throw as hard as Paulino, he has the distinct advantage of not yet having worn out his welcome.
Finally, it seems like only yesterday we were handing the division crown to Colorado and the MVP to shortstop Troy Tulowitzki. Alas, the season continues beyond April, and both team and player have crashed hard:
Earth to Troy: Come in, Troy
These are arbitrary dates, but then, life is arbitrary. The calendar doesn't care about your stupid slump.
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I am trying to avoid off-field issues when discussing the Dodgers, but they are making it quite difficult. Very well, let's get those out of the way first:
On the field, the Dodgers continue to scuffle, falling to 7-13 in May. Ethier, who recently grabbed the nation's attention with a 30-game hitting streak, has posted a .145/.230/.200 line in 15 games since then (it's like he is swinging a saguaro) and was forced from Sunday's loss against the White Sox after crashing into the fence at U.S. Cellular Field and injuring his elbow, back, and toe.
Finally, we've discussed the Padres' difficulties at home, but the Dodgers aren't providing much offense in their own ballpark either. As a team, they are hitting .232/.287/.326 at home with 12 home runs. The power outage is more alarming when you realize that almost all the damage is coming from one person:
Kemp and Company at Dodger Stadium
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The Giants, meanwhile, are playing like a team intent on defending its title. After losing their first two games in May, they have won 14 of their last 18, moving from 5 games back of the Rockies to 3 1/2 ahead of them.
Here are the NL West standings after those first two games of the month:
And here they are since:
The Giants haven't been obliterating their competition, instead doing just enough to win. They have spun five shutouts during that stretch (same as the division's other four teams combined) and are 8-0 in one-run games.
San Francisco's record in one-run games for the entire season is 14-3, tops in MLB. Although this rate of success is unsustainable, those games are in the books and count toward the Giants' record thus far. Nobody can take them away just because, statistically speaking, it shouldn't have happened.
Elsewhere in the “shouldn't have happened” category, erstwhile first baseman Brandon Belt toils in Fresno and waits. Belt is doing what he always does in the minor leagues, hitting .352/.483/.560 since his demotion.
On the one hand, this is terrific production and perhaps merits a return by Belt to the Bay Area, especially in light of Aubrey Huff's .228/.286/.359 performance for the big club. On the other, when you're on a roll, it's hard to justify shaking things up no matter how anemic the offense has been.
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Speaking of the Giants, we've noted the unlikely comeback of right-hander Ryan Vogelsong, but Arizona third baseman Sean Burroughs' return is no less amazing. Despite playing just 49 professional baseball games since 2006 (and none since 2008), the 30-year-old former first-round pick signed with the Diamondbacks over the winter and hit .386/.434/.571 in 27 games at Triple-A Reno, forcing his way onto the big-league roster.
This has nothing to do with Burroughs' current situation, but it's a good excuse to make a point. I once used Jason Giambi's lack of power at the minor-league level as an illustration of how Burroughs might some day develop the ability to hit home runs.
I forget the exact argument, but the gist of it was that since Giambi never hit more than 12 homers in a minor-league season (at age 22 in Class A) and Burroughs once hit 9 at age 20 in Triple-A... therefore, a witch. You had to be there, but it made a certain amount of sense at the time. Meanwhile, back in the real world, Giambi and Burroughs have combined to hit 431 big-league home runs, with Giambi accounting for a shade more than 97 percent of them.
The point is that such comparisons are fun, but it's best not to get carried away. The same applies to Burroughs' comeback.
Vogelsong? Burroughs? Who's next? Hey, maybe the Padres can bring back Ruben Rivera to help bolster their offense; after all, he leads the Mexican League with 23 home runs...